Northwestern High School and The Struggle to Fill Teaching Vacancies
Written by: Jenson Castillo
Front of Northwestern High School on Sept.15, 2023. (Jenson Castillo)
Five minutes from the University of Maryland campus sits one of the most challenged high schools in Prince George's County. Northwestern High School serves over 2,000 students from surrounding communities and 97% of these students are minorities who come from middle to low income communities.
The school website boasts a 15:1 student to teacher ratio but Northwestern, as many other public schools in the county, have struggled to fill teaching vacancies, over 2,000 teaching vacancies prior to the 2023 fall school year. According to current Northwestern High students, there are classrooms right now that do not have a single teacher.
When there are teaching vacancies for a class, students are placed in classrooms with no teachers. When I spoke to a few Northwestern students, they told me that typically 25-30 students are present in these teacherless classrooms and they just sit for an entire class period.
Northwestern High School is ranked 157 out 263 Maryland High Schools
Education is one of the most important determinants of life outcomes. Numerous studies have shown the positive correlation between education and wealth. This relationship has a domino effect on the rest of a person's life. The more education a person has, the better employment opportunities they have and the more income/wealth they earn; they enjoy better health and live in better, safer communities. Their children go to better schools and go on to graduate from colleges and universities and their children do better, and so on. Education is so critical to the well-being of a society, yet we have students sitting in classrooms without a teacher in a "magnet" high school.
What happens to students who get a poor education? Where do they end up? People with a high school diploma, or less, have a higher risk of poor health and an early death. They have less quality employment opportunities and with that a string of challenges.
Did they not have enough determination and resiliency? Did they lack a strong work ethic? Is it the educational institutions’ fault for allowing a classroom to exist without a teacher? Is it the way the high school is funded via property taxes that is to blame? Or are there not enough teachers for hire? Is it their parents fault? Is it the drugs and the violence in the school?
There is an ongoing debate about what determines the life outcome of an individual. On one side, people argue that the life outcome of an individual depends on the environment and the institutions he or she is born into: race, class, or wealth. On the other side, people believe that life outcome depends solely on the makeup of the individual: a person’s resiliency, determination, or work ethic. Whatever side of this divide one may fall on, the impact of a poor education on a person’s life is undeniable.
Allen Bloom is quoted as having said that "education is the movement from darkness to light." If this is true then the question becomes how many students are being left in the dark?